Alloway and Southern Ayrshire FAMILY HISTORY SOCIETY Robert Burns Cottage, Alloway, Ayr
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Tuesday, 27 November 2012

20 Nov 2012 - "Railway Ramblings"

Alasdair Wham began by explaining that his illustrated talk was most definitely about the railway infrastructure and not the rolling stock which used it.  He first became interested after reading "Forgotten Railways: Scotland" by John Thomas and this ignited his passion for exploring the routes and the many stories associated with them.  Perhaps one of the best known literary references is John Buchan's hero, Richard Hannay, escaping from the train as it crosses the Big Water of Fleet viaduct by abseiling down. - A scene captured in the Hitchcock's 1935 film "The Thirty-Nine Steps".  He became interested in old railway routes after reading about a crash at Kirkudbright railway station and spent many holidays walking the track of the old lines with his sons.

A Journey through Galloway included stories of the "Paddy Line"  to Portpatrick opened in 1859 and was substantially closed, under the Beeching Axe, in 1965.  At Castle Douglas some buildings remain, but there is now little sign of the track.   Parton station is now a house and only the platform remains as a reminder.  James Clarke Maxwell, who laid the foundations of so much of modern science, was an early passenger on the route and is buried in Parton Kirkyard.  Alasdair went on to show us pictures of Loch Ken viaduct when it could be crossed, carefully avoiding the loose planks, but is now impassable.  Other places of interest covered included the site of New Galloway station,  the crossing of the boggy Mossdale, and Creetown which provided much of the stone for Liverpool Docks. 
A surprising landmark shown is the "Hitler's Grave" - built by a Polish prisoner of war.  While a more cheerful one is "Tea Pot Cottage".  The cottage got it's name because, when whisky had been distilled nearby, a tea pot was put in the cottage window to alert train drivers to its availability! 
It's not only people who enjoy the old railway tracks as adders are regularly seen - even though they do their best to avoid people.  Some parts of the Scottish network Alasdair had walked are no longer passable, such as the Whitrope Tunnel in the borders which is 3/4 of a mile long and has a curve in the middle making it seem longer.  Water damage had caused rubble to fall and it is now blocked off.

The cross beside the railway embankment near the former Lugar ironworks is in memory of a tragic accident in 1888.  There was previously a Convent near the site and a nun out searching for a missing pupil did not hear a train coming as she the crossed the track and was killed.  This led to religious tension and problems at the time because the driver was a Presbyterian.

Bringing us closer to home, Alasdair showed part of the "Golfer's Line" which ran from Alloway to Girvan - via Turnberry.  The Alloway end of this is is now an excellent cycle and footpath with outstanding views of the River Doon and its bridges.  The old tunnel, which passes under gardens and the main the road, has been reinforced and is well lit.  We were reminded to look out for remains of signalling gear which can still be seen at the start of the tunnel.  We were shown some photographs taken on reconnaissance flights over Alloway in the 1940s showing the line of the railway and how very few houses there were then, particularly between Alloway and the coast.  Alloway Station, in its heyday, was very pretty and regularly won prizes for its gardens.  At some stations, it was noted that when the judges were due, passengers brought in pot plants in the morning on the way to work and collected them when they returned in the evening!   A most tragic event took place in 1948 when a train arrived crowded with a Sunday School outing from Troon.  As the passengers crowded onto the bridge to cross the line it gave way and a number of people were injured with one fatality.   The Heads of Ayr/Butlins section of this railway stayed open until the 1960s.  In early years there were sidings near Greenan Castle where Ayrshire potatoes from, and coal for, the farmers could be loaded and unloaded.  Early aerial photos also show the Prisoner of War camp at High Greenan which held Italian prisoners for a long period during the second world war and was the site of an escape.  A large number of prisoners, apparently tired of the Scottish climate and even more tired of the Scottish diet escaped, but only one made it as far as Glasgow. Some were caught in the attic of a local Italian cafe, no doubt after sampling the menu, whilst others only managed to get to Belleisle park, where they lit fires to keep warm...

Alasdair has authored six books documenting his ramblings: The Lost Railway Lines of Galloway, The Lost Railway Lines of Ayrshire, Lost Railway Lines South of Glasgow, Borders Railway Rambles, Edinburgh and Lothians: Exploring the Lost Railways and Trossachs and West Highlands: Exploring the Lost Railways. Most are out of print but old copies would be well worth finding.

Patricia and John Weston 

The following feedback has been received in June about the above report - Thanks: 

I've just finished reading the article about the former, now disused, 'Paddy Line'. A great read I must admit. However, I'd like to correct a factual error - it is mentioned that someone took pictures of the Loch Ken viaduct a few years ago, but that it is now impassable. Having walked across the bridge myself both last year and once again today with my partner, I would like to add that it is not impassable at all. More to the point - 5 or 6 cars drive across it every day! You are completely unable to access it from the lay-by on the A713 but perfectly able to access it and walk across it (albeit using common sense) from the Mossdale side. Shame it was closed to traffic in '83 (even more of a shame the railway was axed of course.)    Anyway, just thought I'd let someone know, in case anyone wanted to go there out of interest, it would be better if they didn't just think it wouldn't be possible.
Ellie Peacock

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